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Saturday, July 08, 2017

Soutou - "quite" or "rather" in Japanese

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soutou (with both o's lengthened: soh-toh) is a word you regularly hear in Japanese conversation that is usually used much like "rather" or "pretty" (e.g., "rather big," pretty fast," etc.)" in English.

There are actually more meanings than that to soutou, which appear in most dictionaries before the "pretty" meaning.

One meaning of soutou is "equivalent to," or "much like" such as in "Shouting "Banzai!" in Japanese is much like shouting "Hurray!" in English." Banzai o sakebu koto ha eigo de Hurray o sekebu koto ni soutou suru." 万歳を叫ぶことは英語でホゥレイを叫ぶことに相当する。

Another meaning is "commensurate with," or "fitting," such as "A punishment that fits the crime" Hanzai ni soutou suru batsu. 犯罪に相当する罰

Or it can mean "suitable" in the sense of "A role suitable to someone with her level of experience" Kanojo no keiken ni soutou suru yakuwari 彼女の経験に相当する役割。

And if you look at the kanji, these "commensurate" and "fitting" meanings are clearly the original meanings, as the sou (相) is for "mutual" and the tou (当) for "appropriate."

However, as I wrote above, in casual conversation you are much more likely to hear soutou with the meaning of "rather," "quite," or "pretty."

While this is by no means a rule, I have observed that soutou tends to have a somewhat stronger meaning when used in regard to something the speaker considers undesirable, e.g., 相当寒い soutou samui, "Pretty cold," and a weaker meaning when used with something the speaker considers desirable, e.g., 相当きれい soutou kirei, or "Quite nice looking."

Finally, soutou doesn't have to be used with an adjective, either. You can also use it with a noun, such as 相当の努力 soto no doryoku, or "quite an effort."


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